…Be Careful What You Wish For.
Regular readers will know that I’ve spent the past twelve months living on the small island of Ko Yao Noi in Phang Nga Bay. It’s about halfway between Phuket and Krabi provinces.
I don’t live there any more. I’ve moved back to Khanom, the place I moved from. You’re probably thinking I’m mad.
An island is a place where you tend to meet people. With a small expat population and a large influx of tourists in the high season, people tend to talk. One couple listened to where I lived and said “Wow, you must really be living the dream.” I felt like saying “Actually I’m living a nightmare” but just smiled and said “Hmm, something like that.”
I guess I need to explain…
You see, there was no one single reason why I decided to leave. There were sixteen. Some major, some minor. One or two reasons you can work around. Sixteen is tough. I think top of the list would be the smallness of the island. I’m a person who likes to tootle. To drive. To explore. To write for Twitterings. I think I had explored every road on the island even before I moved there. As a result it didn’t take long before I developed Island Fever. The Urban Dictionary describes this as “a psychological illness that usually affects poor people found in Hawaii and other islands. It is the realization that you are stuck on whichever island you are living on and not going anywhere. Sure you can take a plane to…” etc.
I’m not sure why they picked Hawaii. It has some pretty big islands. Ko Yao Noi is about 11kms by 7kms, although much of it is narrower than that, and at least a third has no roads. It also has no planes. Most travel is by sea. Longtail boats or speedboats. And of course if you take one of those you have no transport at your destination. The taxi drivers know this, so any travel to or from ferry jetties costs an arm and a leg.
To do any meaningful travelling, it’s necessary to take the one and only car ferry. A half-day shopping trip to Krabi is just possible if the morning ferry is not late and the return ferry to the island is not early. So, you have to know about tides, because if it’s a low tide early afternoon the ferry will leave early so it doesn’t get stuck. Aside from which, it ain’t cheap.
All of which means any sensible trip – to do anything more than thirty minutes shopping – requires an overnight stay, maybe more than one night, plus the cost of the ferry. And you can’t do this when you feel like it, because the ferry is always fully booked for several days in advance, sometimes weeks.
Then there’s the electricity, or lack thereof. Okay, I didn’t expect an absolutely perfect supply with no outages. It must be a challenge to get the electricity from the mainland via undersea cables, but nothing prepared me for the constant failures. They seemed almost daily, and could last five seconds, five minutes or five hours. They even happened five times a day.
As you know, I work with computers. For blogging, sometimes app development, website development, video editing and more. Even a five second power interruption can result in a one hour interruption to the work flow. Five of those in one day means progress is virtually nil. A UPS would have been a partial solution, but they don’t last long, especially after a few months of usage. I’ve tried them, and don’t consider them worth the money.
“Buy a generator” people helpfully told me. Now, that’s something else I have owned and used. They’re not particularly user friendly. Pull cord to start. Pull it twenty times and nothing happens, so then you have to clean the spark plug and try again. When it’s finally running you have a hell of a racket. And then you have to rearrange a bunch of cables so that your essential equipment is now hooked into the generator, not the house supply.
When there’s no electricity there’s also no water. All water supply needs electric pumps, and it would be difficult to plug the pump into the generator. So, in a nutshell, the erratic electricity and water supply made life a bit of a nightmare.
Then there was food. It was always available, provided you wanted to eat whatever had been grown locally or brought from the mainland. For some reason none of that included lettuce. I like salad lunches. I still ate them, but had to be creative with lettuce alternatives.
Bread? The normal sliced variety available everywhere – except Ko Yao Noi. Well, some days yes, some days no. “Should have some tomorrow” they’d tell me. But when tomorrow came the shelves would still be empty. “We had bread, but it was all gone in five minutes” they’d say. There were other commodities, and whereas I could live without any of them, it started to grate. Oh, and I didn’t mention the cost. Anything that came by boat carried at least a 25% surcharge.
Healthcare? Well, yes, of course I checked there was a hospital. And some smart-looking high-priced always empty clinics to keep the tourists happy. But I rapidly discovered the hospital was little more than a triage center. “Send this one to Krabi.” “That one should go to Phuket.” “Prepare a box for that one.” “Send this one home.” Anything rather than treating.
I learned this one day when taking the speedboat to Phuket. There was some poor lady on a stretcher, hooked up to a drip, with five nurses trying to lower the stretcher onto the speedboat. Due to the at-least two meter drop, this meant putting the stretcher almost vertical. “Any minute now she’s going to slide into the water” I thought. Which was rapidly followed by the thought that I never wanted to be treated like that. Now I won’t! I ain’t there.
Plus, I was never really happy with the choice of rental accommodation. Basically I had a choice of “this place” or … well, nothing else, so I chose the one place that was available. I admit, I was enthusiastic. I’d never lived in a house that was 100% wood. My brain worked overtime figuring how to make it look interesting, and I think I was mostly successful. But, wooden buildings have spaces which permit the entry of all kinds of wildlife. The giant hornbills were regular visitors. That was nice. They’d sit on the edge of the window, but thankfully never came in. But everything else did. Rats, bats, smaller birds, termites, scorpions, cockroaches … heck, I could have opened a zoo. I lost far too many nights’ sleep thanks to the rats.
And last of the things I care to mention is the level of service, which leaves a lot to be desired. Before I moved in I noticed there was a fiber-optic cable in the house for broadband internet. “Great” I thought “all they need to do is bring a router and switch me on.” What an idiot I can be. It took seven weeks. Not days, weeks. Totally inexplicable. That’s island life. Now back in Khanom I managed to get connected in five hours. Yes, hours, not days nor weeks.
At the end of the day I had to ask myself what was so special about the island. It has nice beaches. The rest of Thailand has nice beaches. It has some beautiful scenery. Ditto the rest of Thailand. Good restaurants? Yup. Anywhere in Thailand has good restaurants. I have to say, the view across Phang Nga Bay is pretty special, but it is from the mainland too. So, really, other than being able to say “I live on a small tropical island” there isn’t any point.
Convinced yet? I could go on.
It’s soooo nice to be getting back to a normal life. Please excuse me now, I think I’ll take a drive to buy some lettuce.